Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent

Text: John 3:3-5
Jesus answered, "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again."
"How can a grown man be born again?" Nicodemus asked. "He certainly cannot enter his mother's womb and be born a second time!"
"I am telling you the truth," replied Jesus, "that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.

Who are you?

"Who are you?" Thatís a question we are asked frequently. In answering, we usually give our name, where we come from and even what kind of work we do. "Hi! My name is Vince Gerhardy, and Iím the pastor of the Caboolture Lutheran Parish".
Sometimes we have to do a little more than that to prove who we are.
If I wanted to open an account at the bank, I would need to provide some other evidence of who I am Ė a driverís licence with my name, photo and signature, as well as my credit card or Medicare card.
If you want to go overseas, youíve got buckleys of going anywhere unless you have some kind of ID, in this case a passport.
Sometimes in a doctorís waiting room or in an accountantís office you will see various certificates hanging on the wall Ė degrees from universities, membership certificates from professional organisations Ė all very impressive and if you look closely at these you will even see what school, college or university they come from. Thereís nothing wrong with doing that. Itís good to be certain that he knows what heís doing.

Youíve probably got a few certificates for various things tucked away somewhere. I have Ė from school and Sunday School, from college and seminary, from various courses and seminars that I have participated in. When I look at these, I feel kind of good. I can say, "I have done all right". These certificates are a reminder of the various things I have done to achieve them.

Thereís one other piece of paper that I have. Maybe youíve got one like it, tucked away safely in a shoebox or drawer. Like most certificates it doesnít see the light of day very often. Iím talking about your baptismal certificate. This certificate proves who you are but it has nothing to do with how clever you are, what schools you went to, what organisations you belong to or anything like that. This is one certificate you didnít have to work for. It was given to you, not because you were particularly good, or because you have earned it in some way. Your baptismal certificate was simply given to you.

This piece of paper (holding up baptismal certificate) has nothing to do with something I did, or to what I achieved through my cleverness or hard work. This certificate refers to something that God did for me. This doesnít state what I did, it states who I am.

On the day of our baptism, through a very simple act involving a few drops of water along with Godís Word of promise, a wonderful new relationship with God was begun. God did something for us. He made a commitment to each of us.

Nicodemus came to Jesus one night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, that group of people who were always trying to find fault with Jesus and what he taught. But Nicodemus wasnít like that. He wanted to know more about Jesus. He was confused. His training included strict observance of all kinds of religious rules and a very regulated worship life. This, he believed, was the way to be right with God. What he had learnt as a Pharisee seemed to be so different to what Jesus taught. Before he could even ask his question, Jesus says, "I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again."

If Nicodemus was confused before he met with Jesus, he is even more confused now. How ludicrous is the suggestion that a grown man could return to his motherís womb and be born again.

The new birth that Jesus is talking about is from above. Getting into the Kingdom of God is not something we are able to accomplish; it is something that comes "from above", given by God, freely and graciously. No one gets into the Kingdom of God by being a "good person"!

What Jesus says to Nicodemus shocked him. Jesus said that it's not a matter of being "good", it's a matter of "being born anew", or "being born from above". This means "being born of water and the Spirit." Just as Nicodemus contributed nothing to his own birth into the world, likewise he contributes nothing to his birth into the Kingdom of God. Life is a pure gift in each case! The new birth into the kingdom of God is a gift by God's power.

In other words, Jesus is saying: "You canít do it, Nicodemus, but God can! He can transform you from the inside out and make you good enough!

The residents of the town were warned to take cover because a tornado had been sighted. Living in this town was a young couple with a small baby. Knowing the tornado was upon them and that they had no time to take cover, they laid the tiny infant on the floor of their living room and covered the baby with their own bodies. The tornado struck with devastating force and levelled a row of homes, including theirs. The next morning, as rescue workers were rummaging through the destroyed homes, they heard a muffled crying. They came upon the lifeless bodies of the young couple, with their baby still safe beneath their shattered bodies.

What a gift! The Ultimate gift. They gave their lives to save their child.
This is what Christ has done for us.
He died to save our lives.
He took on himself all our sin and guilt so that we might live.
He has made us right with God.
He has made us fit to be members of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus really gave it to Nicodemus straight and plain, "God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life" (John 3:16). That is God's gift to each of us. Forgiveness and eternal life through his Son's death and resurrection.

But there is something very interesting about Johnís telling of the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. We arenít told how the Pharisee reacted to Jesusí words about being born again in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus came to visit Jesus in the darkness of the night.
Did he go away still "in the dark" about the grace of God or did he go home a changed person?
We donít know from John 3 how Jesusí words affected Nicodemus. Maybe the gospel writer did that deliberately to get us to finish the story leading us to ask ourselves,
"What is my response to what Jesus has done for me in death and resurrection?
How have I shown a true understanding of what it means to be born anew, to be born from above in day to day living of the Christ-filled life"?

That brings me to the next point. When we were baptised, God called us to a life of discipleship.
When Zaccheus ate dinner with Jesus and heard about God's love even for a cheat and low-life, he saw in that a call to obedience and so vowed to return all that he had stolen.
When Saul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and heard about God's grace when Ananias was sent to him, he was baptised, and his life was never the same again. He responded in obedience to Jesusí call to be a messenger of God's good news to the gentile world.

It is no different for us. On the day of our baptism and every day since, Jesus has called us to follow him, to a life of discipleship and obedience. Itís very easy to lie back on the soft cushion of grace, knowing that everything is all right between us and God - and do nothing.
Jesusí call of grace always involves the response of obedience to follow him;
it means commitment and dedication to his work through his church;
it requires us as children of God to seek justice and mercy in the issues that arise in our community;
it entails letting Christís love be our guiding force as we deal with those who challenge our patience;
it means us being christ to others.

This piece of paper (holding up certificate) is only a piece of paper. It has no magical powers. But it does remind us that God has given us the thumbs up.
Our baptism tells us that we have God's tick of approval on us.

Let me also add that there are many who have been baptised, have been told all about this relationship creating event, and not one thing changes in their lives. Itís as if what God did through his Son and via our baptism has no meaning for every day life. It is possible to have the Holy Spirit in us but he is shut out of our decision making, the choices we make about what is to be the centre of our lives. What we need is not so much an "in-filling of the Spirit" but an activating of everything God is and everything he has to offer, and listening to the God's call to follow, be disciples, to be busy and concerned about the work God's has called us to do.

A yellowy-brown aging Certificate doesnít look very impressive. In fact, even if you donít have a certificate, the awesomeness of what God's has done for you in baptism and the ongoing mystery that God should do so much for you every day, wouldnít be any the less.
Your baptism is a gift from God that you need to daily return to be made clean by the blood of Jesus and refocussed in your Christian living.

Like me, youíve probably got all kinds of documents and certificates that remind you of your achievements. Your baptism reminds you of what God has done for you and who you are Ė a child of God.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th February, 2005

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